Should you rent a car in Europe?

As Americans, many of us are used to getting in our cars and driving.  With gas back in the low $2 per gallon range in many states (and some even lower), the American love affair with their cars has returned in force again.

But if you are going to Europe, should you rent a car?   Well,  that depends on who you talk to.

  • For those who like to have their independence, don’t want to be restricted by a train schedule and like to explore on your own– maybe renting a car is the right thing to do.
  • If you are traveling somewhere off the beaten trail (like visiting the town in Germany where your grandfather was born), then maybe you should rent a car.
  • If you are concerned about getting lost, don’t rent a car
  • If you are used to driving a large SUV and don’t like driving small cars, don’t rent a car
  • If you don’t have a credit card, don’t even think about renting a car— you won’t be able to pick it up (even if it is pre-paid) without a major credit card in your name.

What should you know about renting a car in Europe?

Here are some tips on renting a car in Europe from our friends at Europe Express:

Do you need an international driver’s permit to rent a car in Europe? – No, it is not required in order to rent a car but is highly recommended. In the event of an accident or traffic violation, having recognizable identification to present to the police will make things a lot easier. An International Driving Permit can be purchased from AAA for only $20 and takes 4-6 weeks to receive.  You don’t need to be a member of AAA to get the license.

Are automatic cars available in Europe? – Manual cars are more common in Europe but automatics can be arranged. The difference in cost can be quite large between a manual transmission and one with an automatic (sometimes almost double the price).  But if you plan early and are flexible with pick up and drop off locations (many times, cars with automatic transmissions are only available at airport locations), you can probably rent a car with an automatic transmission.  Definitely PREBOOK the car in advance.

Is it possible to pick up the car in one country and drop it off in another? – Yes, but expect to pay higher drop fees. These costs can vary; so be sure to double-check pricing before finalizing trip logistics.  Even dropping off a car at a different rental office than the one you picked it up in comes with drop off charges.

Is a CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) necessary? – This is up to the individual but often it is better to be safe than sorry. When incidents occur in Europe, it may not be cheaper to purchase a CDW but it can save time to have one, as trying to fix a car rental problem from the U.S. can be challenging.  Some of the travel insurance companies also can provide additional car rental insurance.  In many cases, the travel insurance that My Vacation Lady can offer you, will include an additional rider for car rental collision coverage.  It’s typically available on a daily basis and is pretty inexpensive.

Will you have to present a credit card locally? – Yes, most locations will request a credit card for a damage deposit locally. This hold will be reimbursed once the car is returned without damage, but it can sometimes take 2-3 weeks.

Where are cars allowed to go? – Car rental companies often prohibit driving a car rented in Western Europe into many of the Eastern countries. Always check if the desired itinerary is allowed before traveling.

Do cars in Europe have GPS devices or can one be rented? – Yes, a GPS can be requested when booking, but some locations will not guarantee them, stating that they are first come first serve. If you have a GPS here in the US, they may be able to contact the manufacturer and get it updated for use in Europe. This can be less expensive and will save you the aggravation of getting used to new technology or ending up with a GPS that is in a foreign language. Also, a GPS is not always be the top tool for navigation in Europe, in some places a good old fashioned map can be the best option.

What can be anticipated regarding the size of cars in Europe? – It is always a safe assumption that cars in Europe will be smaller than at home. Packing light and not exceeding the maximum amount of passengers can mean a more comfortable trip.  Think about it in these terms.  A Ford Focus is considered one of their larger cars.

Be aware of the car rental office’s hours- Many offices have shorter hours and may close mid-day for lunch.  While it may be a bit more expensive to pick up the car at the airport, it is usually easier to rent at the airport than driving in the middle of a city like London, Rome or Paris.

 What happens if you get a ticket in Europe?  

It does happen— just ask our client Scott from Maryland when he rented a car while on his honeymoon in France and more recently Chris who rented a car in Tuscany for his honeymoon.

Let’s talk a bit about getting a ticket in Europe—-

  • Your rental agreement (if you read the fine print) will say that you agree to pay for any tickets that you get while renting their car.
  • You don’t need to get stopped by the police since many European countries have high tech cameras and equipment to nab violators
  • You may not get your tickets until months after you return the car
  • You can get a ticket for speeding, not paying a toll, driving in a restricted zone, which requires a special permit (Italy is notorious for this one), parking in a restricted zone or for numerous other infractions.
  • The tickets can be upwards of $100 per ticket and you may be ticketed for multiple infractions

The first thing you’ll see, usually a couple of months after you return home, is an administrative charge from the car rental company on your credit card.  Chris just got one for about $53.  This is a charge that the rental office will charge your credit card for providing the police (or agency that is issuing the ticket) with your name and address.  Remember that the car was caught by a traffic camera so it is the rental agency that must provide the driver info to the authorities.

The next thing will be a ticket in the mail.  This, again, can be months later.

Should you pay for the ticket?  How should you make the payment?  Here is some good info about that


Chris is looking at the cost of his yet unknown tickets as just another part of the honeymoon package.  That’s a good way to look at it, rather than being upset that you got nabbed by a traffic camera.

When planning your dream honeymoon or vacation, let My Vacation Lady talk to you about the best option for you in getting around and you can make the decision about renting a car or getting around by train.

By |January 9th, 2015|Categories: All|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on Should you rent a car in Europe?

About the Author:

Mindy Gilbert of My Vacation Lady has been helping clients, just like you, plan their dream vacations, cruises and honeymoons since 1994.